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Coils, 1922

Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

Oil on board 
64.7 x 46.6 cm 
Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, Berchem (Antwerp) 
© Galerie Ronny Van de Velde 
© Francis Picabia, VEGAP, Madrid 2020 

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“If the question is war, the answer is absurdity”. This motto is highly characteristic of one of the most anarchic and rebellious movements in Western art of the 20th century, which emerged out of the tense and convulsive political and cultural upheaval of the First World War. 


In the face of irrational pain, and in the face of the unjustifiable suffering and violence of armed conflict, it is not possible to appeal to the good sense and calmness of reasoned argument: one can only throw the cards onto the floor and break the rules of the game. In short, one can only seek a brutal yet liberating absurdity: a catharsis. 


Dadaism emerged in Zurich, given impetus by the frustration of exiles and migrants from a Europe riven by war. The adherents of this movement questioned art down to its most fundamental principles: from the essence of the artistic object to materials, techniques and ways of creation. Its provocative and grotesque actions went hand in hand with laughing at, and destroying, the conventional art forms that the Dadaists saw as outmoded and sacrosanct. 


Along with the German Schwitters and the Frenchman Jean Arp, one of the most simultaneously extravagant and fascinating figures in the Dada movement was Francis Picabia. A genuine 20th century flâneur, Picabia progressed through styles and movements such as Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism and abstract art, eventually becoming his own, unique entity. Picabia – who created this particular work – described the two faces of Dada in the following terms: 


The DADA philosophy is sad and joyful, indulgent and broad. Venetian glass, jewelry, valves, bibliophiles, journeys, poetic novels, pubs, mental illness, Louis XIII, dilettantism, La Última Opereta, the shining star, the peasant, a jug that is spilled little by little, a new variety of rose – these are all the physiognomy of DADA! Without complications and with certainties. Voluble and nervous, DADA is a hammock.